On Tuesday, the justices of the Supreme Court sounded as if they are ready to shred the California law that requires pregnancy centers to notify women that the state offers subsidies for abortion.
That law was adopted in California in 2015, and forced the pregnancy centers to post a prominent notice if they had “no licensed medical provider” available. If the centers were licensed, they were forced to notify clients that the state offers “free or low-cost” contraception, prenatal care and abortion.
As The Los Angeles Times reports of the case, titled NIFLA vs. Becerra, the justices gave the California law short shrift:
Justice Elena Kagan, referring to the fact that doctors and for-profit clinics were exempt from the law, said, “If it has been gerrymandered, that’s a serious issue.” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. echoed that the law “has a lot of crazy exceptions. … What you’re left with is a very strange pattern, and, gee, it turns out just about the only clinics that are covered by this are pro-life clinics.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy saw the law as violating the laws of free speech, calling the required notice “mandating speech” that “alters the content of the message.” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said that California has “other means to provide messages. … It’s pretty unusual to force a private speaker to do that for you under the 1st Amendment.”
After Michael P. Farris, a lawyer for the centers, said advertisements, including billboards, would have to offer the information in large print and in 13 languages, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turned to the lawyer for California and stated, “If you have to say that, those two sentences in 13 different languages, it can be very burdensome,” she said.
The Times reported further:
“What would happen if an unlicensed center just had a billboard that said, ‘Choose Life.’ Would they have to make the disclosure?” Kennedy asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Farris replied.
“It would be 29 words, in the same size font as ‘Choose Life’?” Kennedy continued.
Yes, Farris said, “and in the number of languages required by that county.”
Kennedy said he had heard all he needed to hear. “It seems to me that means that this is an undue burden. And that should suffice to invalidate the statute,” he said.
As Politico reported, “California Deputy Solicitor General Joshua Klein acknowledged that the law might be unconstitutional in some applications, but he encouraged the justices to return the issue to the lower courts to address specific concerns involving certain plaintiffs. That did not sit well with Kennedy. “You want me to have a remand to have them tell the court what a billboard is?” Kennedy scoffed.
Only Justice Stephen G. Breyer defended the law.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor also agreed with those who found the law problematic.
The Times concluded, “By the hour’s end, it appeared the justices would vote to strike down all or at least most of the law’s mandatory disclosure provisions.”
The Supreme Court is expected to render a decision by June.